FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Son of Neurontin Meets the Fibromyalgia Epidemic

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

Who says technology transfer doesn’t pay?

Pregablin, discovered by Northwestern University chemist Richard Silverman in 1989 to become Pfizer’s Lyrica, earned the university a cool $700 million when it sold royalties in Dec. 2007.

The nerve pain-cum-seizure pill is funding the $100 million Richard and Barbara Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics & Diagnostics–currently a hole in the ground on the way to the student union–which will employ 245 this fall. Views of Lake Michigan and the duck pond included.

And, thanks to FDA approval in 2007 of Lyrica as the first US drug for the pain condition fibromyalgia, it may earn as much as its molecular relative–Pfizer’s Neurontin (gabapentin)–which made $3 billion a year before its patent ran out in 2004.

No wonder they call Lyrica son of Neurontin.

Of course there have been setbacks on the road to marketing Lyrica.

In 2001, Pfizer had to freeze pain trials and restrict pregablin in patients when test mice developed cancerous tumors. Profit warning! But when rats tests were okay, Toni Hoover, a vice president with Pfizer’s now defunct Ann Arbor, MI labs sounded the all clear. “The FDA has found that the benefit of taking the drug outweighs any risk,” she told the Detroit News.

Pfizer brass failed to embrace Silverman the way it embraced the $564 million he made for them in Lyrica’s first three months. (“They had a launch party for the drug, and I asked to come. Nope. No party for me. They take your stuff and tell you to go away,” he told the Chicago Tribune.)

And Lyrica’s not approved for the “social phobia” detailed in Pfizer original marketing plans. Yet.

But as long as pharma can get a drug approved in advance of its uses and people will take an antipsychotic for the blues or a seizure med for migraines, Lyrica has a future.

Initial articles about Lyrica which, like Neurontin, is an anti-seizure drug that modulates calcium channels to dampen the excitability of nerve endings, were positive.

“Well tolerated,” said Arthritis and Rheumatism in 2005.

“Proven efficacy” and “No new adverse events,” said Drugs of Today in 2005 and 2007.

“Durability of effect for relieving FM pain,” said the journal Pain in 2008.

Unfortunately the articles were all written by Pfizer paid doctors.

Actual users of Lyrica report memory loss, mental confusion, extreme weight gain, hair loss, impaired driving, disorientation, twitching and a lot of I’d-rather-have-my-fibro-symptoms-back-if-this-is-the-cure on askapatient.com. P.S. There are two deaths.

Of course its no secret that Pfizer’s blockbusters Viagra, Zoloft and Lipitor are history and its pipeline is bare. In January, it announced it was losing 800 of its researchers and buying Wyeth (no danger of getting new researchers there.)

Nor can its gravy train of antibiotics in food animals–pun intended–last much longer with residues found in meat, water and even crops and world recognition of antibiotic resistance.

Just as people were forgetting that Pfizer paid $430 million in 2004 for criminally promoting Neurontin for bipolar disorder, attention-deficit disorder, restless legs syndrome and other unapproved disorders, an article in the January 9 New England Journal of Medicine titled “The Neurontin Legacy–Marketing through Misinformation and Manipulation,” shows it’s déjà vu all over again at Pfizer.

Nor is Lyrica the only game in town anymore for fibromyalgia since the FDA approved Lilly’s antidepressant Cymbalta in 2008 and Forest Laboratories’ antidepressant Savella in January. Now Americans can choose between an antidepressant with a black box warning for suicide and a seizure medication for a disease they didn’t know they had–or was an epidemic–ten years ago.

Lyrica itself was slated for an FDA black box suicide warning in 2008. A 92-page appeal from Pfizer last summer called the suicide stats “an exaggeration of risk that is introduced by ascertainment bias” and cautioned against “overwarning…patients and prescribers” so that they “underestimate the risks of declining treatment.” Especially risks for Pfizer.

As Northwestern students negotiate the snow and construction at the future home of the Richard and Barbara Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics & Diagnostics, any pain they feel is from all-nighters, all-you-can-drink nights and the cold–not fibromyalgia. Few will remember Lyrica when classes start in the new science hall. Nor can a building be withdrawn.

MARTHA ROSENBERG is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. She can be reached  at martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net

 

 

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail